‘All I did was testify’: Republican who defied Trump will get presidential medal

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Rusty Bowers, the former top Republican in Arizona’s house of representatives who stood up to Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and was punished for it by being unseated by his own party, is to receive America’s second-highest civilian honor on Friday.

Bowers will be among 12 people who will be awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by Joe Biden at the White House at a ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the 6 January 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol. It will be the first time that the president has presented the honor, which is reserved for those who have “performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens”.

All 12 took exceptional personal risks to protect US democracy against Trump’s onslaught. Many are law enforcement officers who confronted the Capitol rioters, others are election workers and officials in key battleground states who refused to be bullied into subverting the outcome of the presidential race.

Several of the recipients paid a huge personal price for their actions. Brian Sicknick will receive the presidential medal posthumously – he died the day after the insurrection having suffered a stroke; a medical examiner later found he died from natural causes, while noting that the events of January 6 had “played a role in his condition”.

Bowers’ award, first reported by the Deseret News, came after he refused effectively to ignore the will of Arizona’s 3.4 million voters and switch victory from Biden to Trump. As a result, he incurred the wrath of Trump, who endorsed a rival candidate in last year’s Republican primary elections.

David Farnsworth, the Trump-backed opponent, went on to defeat Bowers and usher him out of the Arizona legislature. Farnsworth is an avid proponent of the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, going so far as to tell voters that the White House had been satanically snatched by the “devil himself”.

Ahead of Friday’s ceremony, Bowers described the news of his award as “something of a shock”. He said that though some of his detractors were likely to denounce his call to the White House a political stunt, he thought it was designed to “create unity and put behind us the division of the past. I’m certainly in favor of that, no matter what.”

He added: “I don’t think this is to stir up division, it’s to honor those who stood up and did their job as best they could. And that’s kind of what America is about.”

Last June, Bowers testified before the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. He told the hearing that shortly after the November 2020 election he had received a phone call personally from Trump, who asked him to take the state’s 11 electoral college votes away from Biden and hand them to him. Bowers replied: “Look, you’re asking me to do something that is counter to my oath … I will not do it.”

In an interview with the Guardian from his desert ranch outside Phoenix in August, Bowers characterized the plot to overturn the election as fascism. “Taking away the fundamental right to vote, the idea that the legislature could nullify your election, that’s not conservative. That’s fascist. And I’m not a fascist,” he said.

Among the other recipients at Friday’s medal presentation will be Eugene Goodman, the Capitol police officer who drew angry rioters away from the Senate chambers where lawmakers were hiding in fear. Jocelyn Benson, who in the role of Michigan’s top election official fended off a virulent campaign of misinformation during the presidential vote count, will also be honored.

Bowers was demure about the role he played to scupper Trump’s anti-democratic ambitions. “All I did was testify before the commission and do my own thing at home, go through my own little trials,” he said.

He was heartened that all of the election-denier candidates endorsed by Trump who stood in statewide races last November had been defeated. They included Kari Lake who lost in the Arizona governor’s election and Mark Finchem, a state lawmaker who was present at the Capitol on January 6, who failed to become the state’s top election official.

“I’m very happy that they were so strongly defeated,” Bowers said. “The outcome to me is illuminative.”